Instagram has about two billion active accounts, with 60 per cent of its users logging in to watch and post 500 million stories each day. That’s a hell of a lot of screen time. But recently, there’s been whisperings (and shouts, from the Kardashians) that the platform might soon find itself in the recycling bin with former social media giants like Neopets, Myspace, Bebo and Friendster. Could we really be witnessing the fall of the app that birthed belfies, brunch photos and Instagram face?
It’s all TikTok’s fault, basically. You might have noticed the ‘gram is looking (and acting) increasingly like the Chinese-founded social media platform lately. This is mainly thanks to its “Reels” feature, which launched in 2020, just after TikTok blew up, and, as Instagram puts it, allows users to record and edit “multi-clip videos with audio, effects and new creative tools.” No wonder, then, that Reels are often described as a “TikTok clone”. If you open the app and scroll through your feed right now, you’ll mainly see Reels content from accounts you’re not following in the same exhausting, rapid-fire way as TikTok.
The fact that these TikTok clones now dominate IG’s timeline is no coincidence. Meta (the parent company of Instagram, Facebook, WhatsApp and more) will have seen that users spend a lot more time on TikTok than Instagram and got a little bit jealous. They want a bigger slice of the content pie, don’t they? It’s business, after all. They’ve even been paying media companies to post reels to kickstart video dominance on the platform.
But users aren’t too happy with Insta’s changes. Likes and comments on image posts are tanking, mainly because most people aren’t even seeing them on their feeds. If it ain’t reels, the algorithm doesn’t give you a look-in. Creators, businesses and normal people who just want their mates to see their holiday snaps have had to change rapidly or face a big downturn in engagement. And it’s not just struggling content creators who are disgruntled. The TikTokification of Insta has even bothered the highest calibre of social media personalities. Kylie Jenner recently reshared a campaign to “Make Instagram Instagram again” to her 364 million Instagram followers. Activism at its finest.
The head of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, initially shrugged off these complaints. In fact, he went in the other direction, announcing that “more and more of Instagram is going to become video over time” – essentially, “get used to it”. But this approach has the potential to drive users away, rather than keep them glued to their scenes.
Instagram is so “wildly insecure about not being the number one driver of hyper culture and consumption that they are overlooking the quality of the user experience,” says Eve Lee, founder of The Digital Fairy, a creative agency which specialises in internet and youth culture. Creative digital strategist Jordan Mulvaney agrees: “At its core, it seems the biggest issue Instagram has is not directly listening to its creators. Instead they’re using users’ in-app behaviour to dictate where they go – even though this in-app behaviour is a result of the app’s missteps.”
To simplify, Instagram said: “videos hot, photos not”. This made everyone scramble to make videos in fear of their careers, sales, engagement, whatever, plummeting. Then Instagram said: “Oooh, would you look at that! Most people are now making videos.” That means that when people protest any video-led changes, Instagram can justify them with data that shows there’s actually an appetite for video, even though they’re the ones who forced this change.
The irony is that by chasing TikTok, Instagram is leaving their current base without anywhere to post their pics. This allows other apps to try and swoop in, such BeReal, which has been downloaded 29,200 per cent more than it was last year. The app isn’t exactly the same as Instagram, but it does let you share photos and have people actually see them.
So, is Instagram really dying before our very eyes? Well, not really, if you look at the numbers – two billion accounts is hardly a depleted consumer base. Plus, clever people like Mulvaney think the platform could be “in purgatory” and that it might claw its way back “if it takes on board the recent backlash”.
And the backlash has seemed to have rattled the bigwigs at Instagram a little bit. Mosseri swiftly backtracked on his initial get-over-it statement, saying that he wants to “continue supporting photos” and, to be fair, the feed has been looking a little more photographic in recent days. But to ensure people stick around long term, Instagram needs to get over its identity crisis. Those Silicon Valley bros probably need to have a long hard think about what they actually want Instagram to be – a bit of soul searching, you know. Godspeed to everyone in those meetings.